1 June 2024

1 June

Iolanda of Savoy - banished princess

Sister of Italy’s last monarch lived quiet life in seaside villa

Princess Iolanda of Savoy, the eldest daughter of Italy’s wartime king Vittorio Emanuele III, was born on this day in 1901 in Rome.  Along with the other members of the Italian royal family, she left the country in 1946 after a referendum over whether to turn Italy into a republic gained the support of 54 per cent of those who voted.  The new constitution specifically banned the male heirs of the House of Savoy from setting foot on Italian soil.  Her brother, Umberto II, who had been made king when his father abdicated in May 1946, shortly before the vote, had the crown for just 27 days. He left for Portugal, never to return to his homeland.  The decision to send male members of the family into exile was essentially the new republic’s punishment for Vittorio Emanuele having allowed the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini to run the country as a dictator.  Vittorio Emanuele, who was king for 46 years, was tainted in particular by his approval of Mussolini's anti-semitic race laws by which all Jewish students were expelled from schools and Jews were banned from public office and forbidden to marry outside their race.  Read more…


Alice Barbi - singer

Mezzo-soprano who became close friend of Brahms

Alice Barbi, who enjoyed a short but successful career as a singer after showing a talent for the violin from an early age, was born on this day in 1858 in Modena.  An accomplished mezzo-soprano famed for her sweet, velvety tone, Barbi performed in London, St Petersburg, Berlin and Vienna as well as in her native Italy. She is also known for her friendship with the celebrated German composer Johannes Brahms.  The two met shortly after Barbi had performed in Vienna for the first time in 1888. Brahms was said to be captivated by both her voice and her beauty and they soon began to meet regularly for dinner. Their relationship, which lasted until his death in 1897, was never more than platonic, although the composer - 25 years’ her senior - is said to have confessed to friends that she was the only woman he had met in his later years he would have liked to marry.  Barbi’s love of music was passed on by her father, Enrico, who was a violin teacher and tutored Alice so well that she was able to make her public debut on the instrument at the age of seven.  The family moved to Egypt but when Alice returned to Italy she enrolled at the Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini in Bologna. Read more…


Arrigo Benedetti - journalist and author

Founder and editor of three major news magazines

Arrigo Benedetti, one of the most influential figures in postwar Italian news journalism, was born on this day in 1910 in Lucca.  Benedetti was the founding editor of three of Italy’s most important news magazines, one of which, L’Espresso, still ranks as one of the two most prominent Italian weeklies, alongside Panorama.  Of the other two, L’Europeo, which was launched in 1945, ceased publication in 1995, although the title was briefly revived in the 2000s, while Oggi continues to be published some 82 years after its inception, making it one of Italy’s oldest still-active magazines.  Arrested by the Fascist regime during World War Two, Benedetti escaped after the prison in which he was being held was bombed during an Allied air strike.  Born Giulio Benedetti, the son of a sales representative, he studied literature and philosophy at the University of Pisa and had some literary works published in the early 1930s.   But he had ambitions to pursue a career in journalism rather than academia and in 1937 moved to Rome to join his boyhood friend, Mario Pannunzio, in working for a new weekly news magazine, Omnibus, edited by Leo Longanesi.  Read more…


Francesco Scipione – playwright

Erudite marquis revitalised Italian drama

Dramatist Francesco Scipione, marchese di Maffei, was born on this day in 1675 in Verona.  His most famous work was his verse tragedy, Merope, which attempted to introduce Greek and French classical simplicity into Italian drama. This prepared the way for the dramatic tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri and the librettos of Pietro Metastasio later in the 18th century.  After studying at Jesuit colleges in Parma and Rome, Scipione went to fight on the side of Bavaria in the War of the Spanish Succession. He saw action in 1704 at the Battle of Schellenberg, near Donauworth, when his brother, Alessandro, was second in command at the battle.  In 1710, Scipione was one of the founders of an influential literary journal, Giornale dei letterati, a vehicle for his ideas about reforming Italian drama. He founded a later periodical, Osservazioni letterarie, to promote the same cause.  Scipione spent time studying the manuscripts in the Royal Library at Turin and arranged the collection of objects of art which Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy had brought from Rome. He also travelled extensively in France, England, the Netherlands and Germany. Read more…


Francis V – Duke of Modena

Jacobite claimant was forced to flee his own duchy

The last reigning Duke of Modena, Francis V, was born on this day in 1819 in Modena.  He was the son of Francis IV of Modena and Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy.  After the death of his mother in 1840, Francis was considered by Jacobites to be the next legitimate heir to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland.  He succeeded as Duke of Modena in 1846 on the death of his father and also held the titles of Archduke of Austria and royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia.  During the 1848 revolutions in Italy, Francis was forced to flee from Modena after an uprising, but he was restored to his duchy backed by Austrian troops the following year.  He had to flee again in 1859 after the duchy was invaded by the armies of France and Piedmont. In March 1860, the new King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, ordered Modena to be incorporated into his new kingdom.  Francis went to live in Vienna and died there in 1875. After his death, his niece, Maria Theresa of Austria Este, became the new Jacobite claimant.  The Duchy of Modena and Reggio was an Italian state from 1452 to 1859. Modena has now become famous as the birthplace of opera singers Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Italy and its Monarchy, by Denis Mack Smith

The Italian monarchy - essentially the House of Savoy - was founded by Humbert I, Count of Savoy. The name derives from the historical region of Savoy in the Alpine region between what is now France and Italy. Over time, the House of Savoy expanded its territory and influence through judicious marriages and international diplomacy. From the rule of a small region on the French/Italian border, the dynasty’s realm grew to include nearly all of the Italian Peninsula. Italian unification brought together the Savoy kingdom of Sardinia with the Bourbon kingdom of the Two Sicilies, forming the modern Kingdom of Italy.  The House of Savoy became the ruling dynasty, with Victor Emmanuel II as the first constitutional monarch in 1861. However, after World War II, a constitutional referendum was held on June 2, 1946, leading to the abolition of the monarchy.  Written by one of the world's leading historians of Italy, Italy and its Monarchy is a provocative and highly readable study of the Italian monarchy and its impact on Italy's history, from Unification in 1861 to the foundation of the Italian republic after the Second World War.

Denis Mack Smith was an English historian who specialised in the history of Italy from the Risorgimento onwards. He is best known for his biographies of Garibaldi, Cavour and Mussolini, and for his single-volume Modern Italy: A Political History.

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